This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Where Do I Start? What Do I Say? How Do I Do It?
Carmen Y. Reyes The Psycho-Educational Teacher
License Notes This book is intended for professional enrichment. You may reproduce this book only for classroom management purposes. Duplicating this book for commercial use is not allowed. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Copyright © 2013 by Carmen Y. Reyes SolidRock Press Brooklyn, New York
Introduction …..11 Part I: The Basics Chapter 1: Understanding Emotional Communication- The Magic We Create with the Words We Say …..17 Emotional Language Within the Broader Context of Interpersonal Communication
Interpersonal Communication Principles
The Interaction Between the Verbal and the Nonverbal Messages Chapter 2: The Role of Feelings in Emotional Communication …..27 Negative Feelings Positive Feelings Facts About Feelings Table 2.1. Feelings List Chapter 3: The Therapeutic Environment- Principles, Skills, and Steps …..35 Therapeutic Principles The “Therapeutic Attitude” The Therapeutic Process: Steps Part II: Where Do I Start? Chapter 4: Key Elements of a Therapeutic Interaction …..53 Reaching the Unreachable Child with Rapport Guidelines to Develop Empathic Understanding and Rapport Talking with a Distraught Child: Enhanced Interventions that Build On-the-Spot Rapport and Defuse Troubling Feelings
Chapter 5: Therapeutic Listening …..67 Listening Levels Listening Types Obstacles to Effective Listening Traveling to the Therapeutic Realm: Listening Skills that Ensure a Swift Journey
Empathy Acceptance Immediacy Sensitivity Time
Table 5.1. Listening Therapeutically to Children Chapter 6: The Role of Self in Emotional Communication …..85 Types of Self Self-Concept Self-Identity Self-Esteem Self-Awareness Self-Efficacy Self-Confidence Revealing Our Human Side: The Importance of Teacher’s Self-Disclosures
A Word of Caution About Self-Disclosure
Part III: What Do I Say? Chapter 7: Fundamentals of Language- How Messages Work …..99 Actions We Perform with the Words We Say Kinds of Statements
Kinds of Messages
Pure or Contaminated?
The Meaning in the Words We Hear Linguistic Patterns that Prevent Us to Really Understand Each Other
Language Patterns that Limit the Positive Things Children Can Do Language Patterns that Distort Reality
The Message Within the Message: Metamessages
Chapter 8: The Therapeutic Dialogue- Opening the Message …..127 Validating Normalizing Externalizing Acknowledging More Guidelines Chapter 9: The Therapeutic Dialogue- Facilitating the Message …..139 Verbalizing Prompting Encouraging Affirmations Furthering Supporting Chapter 10: The Therapeutic Dialogue- Making the Message Clear …..147 Feedforward Checking Perceptions Paraphrasing
Clarifying Elaborating Summarizing Chapter 11: The Therapeutic Dialogue- Controlling the Message …..157 Returning Redirecting Specifying Focusing Chapter 12: The Therapeutic Dialogue- Deepening the Message …..163 Furthering Reflecting Using Observational Cues Getting Deeper Meaning Decoding the Feeling Reframing Finding Patterns Interpreting
Reframing and Interpretations are Two Sides of the Same Coin
Chapter 13: The Therapeutic Dialogue- Going Even Deeper with Transformative Questions …..177 Questioning Probing Questions: Hargie’s List
Clarification Probes Justification Probes Relevance Probes Exemplification Probes
Extension Probes Open-Ended Probes Accuracy Probes Restatement Probes Echo Probes Consensus Probes Clearinghouse Probes
Asking Transformative Questions: Paul’s Taxonomy
Questions of Clarification Questions that Probe Assumptions Questions that Probe Reasons and Evidence Questions About Viewpoints or Perspectives Questions that Probe Implications and Consequences
Chapter 14: The Therapeutic Dialogue- Resolving Discrepancies …..191 Background Albert Ellis and the A-B-C Model of Emotions Prompting Disputing Irrational Thinking
Chapter 15: The Therapeutic Dialogue- Shifting the Message …..205 Suggestions Persuasion
Part IV: How Do I Do It? Chapter 16: Summoning to Action Part 1- Social Problem-Solving …..225 Some Basic Principles How Social or Interactional Problems Start What is Social Problem-Solving?
How to Teach Social Problem-Solving The Social Problem-Solving Model
Tips for Teaching Social Problem-Solving Chapter 17: Summoning to Action Part 2- The Supportive Style …..243 The Supportive Style: Outlining the Steps When Teachers and Students Disagree: Keeping Power Struggles Out of the Interaction Chapter 18: Child Guidance Techniques …..279 Child Guidance Techniques
Taking Responsibility Using Choice Language Teaching Relative Reasoning Making it Solvable Breaking it Down Making the New Behavior Relevant Distancing the Student from the Disruptive Behavior Externalizing the Behavior Making the Angry Feeling Identity Incongruent Making the Angry Feeling Goal Incongruent Normalizing the Behavior Minimizing the Problem
Using Strategic Language Using the Language of Change Using Tentative Language Reframing the Student’s Perception of the Problem Empathizing Role-Playing the Behavior Paraphrasing Reflecting on What the Student Says Translating the Feeling Labeling Reversing the Feeling Developing Hypotheses Checking Perceptions Structuring the Student’s Thinking Challenging the Student Confronting the Student Decoding the Behavior Teaching Self-Decoding Making the Troubling Feeling Less Intense or Hostile Increasing the Child’s Ability to Analyze Behavior Using Self-Disclosures Eliciting from the Student Ideas and Suggestions for Changing Behavior Training the Student to Analyze Own Thoughts Questioning the Student Teaching Alternative Behaviors Teaching Students to Talk Descriptively The Doubling Technique
The Solution-Focused Approach Identifying Exceptions Trying Something Really Different Role-Playing New and Improved Behaviors
References …..305 About the Author …..309 CONNECT WITH THE AUTHOR ONLINE …..310 DISCOVER OTHER TITLES BY THIS AUTHOR …..311
The purpose of this book is to familiarize teachers, administrators, and supportive personnel in schools with the fundamental principles, communicative skills, and child guidance techniques employed by skilled practitioners helping troubled and hard to reach children in therapeutic settings. With each passing day, more and more teachers in both general and special education classrooms are realizing that the communication skills already known by helping professionals working in therapeutic settings for troubled students are the same communication skills that all teachers can apply in our day-to-day interactions with all kinds of students. Anyone with the professional responsibility of teaching and helping children understands well that not everything that we say to children is heard and experienced by them the same way. Like coming from a sorcerer or magician, some words we say charm children, empowering them to fly to the realm of goals and possibilities. Other words seemed to have lost its charming touch, sounding dull and repetitive. But the worst offenders are those kinds of words that confine children, grounding them and keeping them in the same path of negative expectations and dysfunctional behaviors. In children’s hearts and minds most of these worst offenders sound and feel like judgments and negative criticism, failing to connect children with all that is good in them, can be better, and will be better for them. The focus in this book is on those wizardly words and messages that never doubt if children can fly (we know they can), but create a magic spell that bridges children with a more optimistic future (with their goals and aspirations), challenging children to find out how high they can fly. These enchanting messages
have been called positive, motivational, encouraging, and/or inspirational by most of us; in this book, we call them relationship enhancers and they are at the heart of emotional communication or therapeutic communication. In Essentials of Emotional Communication for Reaching the Unreachable Student, teachers learn how to assemble a meaningful therapeutic communication toolkit to challenge negative thoughts, defuse self-defeating attitudes, soothe angry and/or troubling feelings, build and/or strengthen coping skills, and elicit positive behavior in a distraught or hard to reach student. The guiding principle in this book is that all therapeutic interventions are essentially verbal interventions; most specifically, carefully crafted ways of talking to gradually shift the child from a state of agitation and helplessness into a more resourceful state of resolution. Enhancing the communication pathway between the teacher or helper and the hard to reach student enables the teacher to deliver “just the right words” to create the supportive and facilitative atmosphere that the distraught child needs so badly. Is in the teacher’s ability to articulate a message that soothes and heals troubling and self-defeating feelings and attitudes that therapeutic communication thrives. Basically, on Essentials of Emotional Communication for Reaching the Unreachable Student, we lay the foundation for a teacher-student therapeutic interaction, including techniques for learning about the child, building and then maintaining a supportive and facilitative environment, and engaging the child in joint problem-solving. As stated in the opening paragraph, the communicative and therapeutic skills detailed in this book benefit equally general and special education teachers not only because learning these skills improve our understanding of children’s feelings, but also because they strengthen our skills in managing children’s most challenging behaviors. Most importantly, enhanced
emotional communication skills equate to an improved ability in promoting selfawareness, self-determination, and self-efficacy in all of our students, especially, in that student seated in the back of our classroom that we always believed was so difficult to reach.
Part I The Basics
Chapter 1 Understanding Emotional CommunicationThe Magic We Create with the Words We Say
we, so focused in trying to get the child to do as directed, recurred mostly to delivering orders and commands. The more the child refused to do what we wanted him to do, the louder our voice and the more restrictive our messages. The more restrictions the child heard, the more antagonistic he acted. And the more antagonistic the child responded, the more problematic our face-to-face interactions turned. Feeling discouraged and frustrated, we start doubting our own ability to improve this strained relationship. Quite the opposite, we feel certain that there is little we can say or do to “fix” this problematic relationship. Without realizing it, much of what we may be experiencing as an antagonistic interaction with our hard to handle student relates to a breakdown in the messaging, most specifically, a collapse in the things we are saying, or the messages we are sending, to our hard to reach student. Revolving around a selfperpetuating circle of contemptuous interactions fed by negative messages, our antagonistic position fuels more negative and pessimistic language, and more negative and pessimistic language in turn fuels even more antagonistic interactions. In one sentence, our antagonistic messages to the child give form to our antagonistic interactions with the child. From a communicative standpoint, “to bring the magic back,” shifting both teacher and student from an adversarial
ne day, somehow, our face-to-face interactions with that difficult to handle student seated in the back of the room lost its magic touch, being replaced by domineering interactions instead where
position to collaborative partners, we first need to “clean” and polish the messages we are sending to the child. By crafting therapeutic messages delivered within the context of positive and optimistic expectations, we let children know that we believe in their ability to feel and to act positively, aligning children with their best attributes and strengths, and then, using those strengths to build effective coping skills and to elicit better-adjusted behavior. Simply put, magic (positive feelings and behavior) is in the words we say and in the messages we convey to children.
Emotional Language Within the Broader Context of Interpersonal Communication
Although interpersonal communication can be approached from different perspectives, for example, elements (the basic components), processes (how messages are produced), stages (e.g. the different developmental steps between initiating an interaction and disengaging from the interaction; also how interactions evolve from impersonal to close or intimate), contexts or settings (e.g. family or classroom), and types or channels (e.g. verbal and nonverbal), in this book, we focus on the perspective of interpersonal communication that is relationshipcentered; more specifically, those messages within the face-to-face interaction that influence and build the relationship. From this dyadic or relational framework, interpersonal communication is the communication that takes place between two individuals who have an established relationship regardless of the direction of that relationship (negative or positive). From this perspective, interpersonal communication is more than an exchange of information between those two individuals. Through face-to-face interactions, individuals negotiate meanings, identities, and relationships (Braithwaite and Baxter, 2008). As DeVito (2001)
states, the two individuals exchanging ideas and/or feelings are in some way “connected.” This definition includes what is taking place either in a negative (adversarial) or a positive (collaborative and/or supportive) direction; for example, between a child and her parent, siblings, friends, coworkers, a teacher and a student, and so on. From this relationship-centered perspective the basic characteristics of interpersonal communication are: 1. Communication from one individual to another 2. Face-to-face interaction (no-mediated) 3. Takes place in a dyadic (one-to-one) or in a small group setting 4. Both in form (how we say the words) and in content (the specific words we use) the communication is shaped by and conveys something of the personal characteristics of those individuals interacting as well as their social roles (Hartley, as cited on Hargie, 2011) According to Hewes (as cited on Hargie, 2011), at the core of the communicative experience we have: A. Intersubjectivity, or trying to understand the other person and being understood by the other person in turn, and, B. Impact which represents the extent to which the message brings about change in the other person’s thoughts, feelings, and/or behavior. Interpersonal Communication Principles One of the most important principles for teachers to understand is that interpersonal communication is circular; that is, the first person’s message is the stimulus for the second individual’s message, which in turn serves as stimulus for the first person’s message, and so on. This circular interaction ensures that both
individuals in the interaction are at the same time the speaker and the listener, or actor and reactor in the communicative process. As DeVito (2001) states, interpersonal communication is a mutually interactive process (p. 27). Additional principles beneficial for teachers to know are (DeVito, 2001; Hargie, 2011): Interpersonal communication is transactional. This principle emphasizes the dynamic interplay and changing nature of the communicative process. The two individuals communicating continually influence and are in return influenced by each other. This is what Hargie (2011) calls reciprocal influence. The elements in interpersonal communication are interdependent. That is, each element (i.e. source- receiver, encoding or producing the message and decoding or understanding the message, competence or each individual’s ability to communicate effectively, messages or those signals that serve as a stimulus for the receiver, channel or the medium we use, and purpose, for example, to learn, to persuade, or to play) in the communicative process is intimately connected to the other parts (other elements) and to the whole (whole message). Because of this interdependency, a change in any one of the elements causes changes in the other elements. For a full list of elements, see DeVito (2001). Interpersonal communication is purposeful. We communicate with some end, or purpose, in mind; in simpler terms, we communicate because we want to achieve something. Although an interaction between two individuals may be ineffective (does not communicate in a clear way what the goal or intention is, and consequently, fails in achieving the communicative goal), it is never aimless; when two
individuals communicate, they are always trying to make something happen (the communicative goal). When individuals are aware of what their communicative goals are, they can deliver a better focused and more effective message, making the skill of goal making crucial in improving our communicative ability. Interpersonal communication is either symmetrical or complementary. In a symmetrical interaction, the two individuals mirror each other’s feelings and behaviors. For example, if one individual crosses her arms, the second individual crosses his legs; if one individual leans against the wall, the second individual leans against a desk; if one individual yells, the second individual also yells. Symmetrical interactions minimize the differences between the two individuals. On the other hand, in a complementary interaction, the two individuals engage in different, and sometimes opposite, behaviors. Here, if one individual yells, the second individual speaks softly; if one individual is aggressive, the second individual is conciliatory; if one individual walks fast, the second individual walks slowly. Complementary interactions maximize the differences between the two individuals. Both symmetrical and complementary interactions are crucial in creating rapport and in defusing troubling feelings. Effective interpersonal communication requires from the two individuals involved to understand and to share each other’s personal definitions or symbols. Effective interpersonal communication can take place only to the extent that the parties involved understand each other’s system of symbols. The best example is observing how two individuals from two countries with different languages try to
communicate; because the languages (symbols) are different, communication is hindered. Even when they share one language, not two individuals share identical symbol systems. For instance, in the classroom, while the teacher defines a student’s behavior as foolish and immature, the student is interpreting the same behavior as funny and “cool.” What the teacher sees as “careless,” the child sees as “bold.” The communicative difficulty here starts when the teacher and the child use different vocabulary words to define the same act, aggravated by the fact that, without realizing it, the teacher and the student have different meanings, or different symbols, for the same words (e.g. “careless” or “impulsive” means something different for each individual). And like two individuals from different countries, as long as the teacher is not aware of how her/his meanings and the child’s meanings are different, any attempt of communication with the child will come to a halt. As DeVito (2001) states, “Part of the art of interpersonal communication is learning the other person’s signals, how they are used, and what they mean” (p. 32). In the classroom, learning about the student’s symbols and their meanings requires both time and patience, but if we want to understand what the student is communicating with a specific behavior, we need to understand the meaning of that behavior for the child. Simply put, we must understand the behavior from the student’s perspective or point of view, not ours. Even more, we need to be willing to share our own system of symbols with children (i.e. our feelings, attitudes, and expectations), so that children understand us better.
The Interaction Between the Verbal and the Nonverbal Messages
A fundamental belief in interpersonal communication is that, in person-toperson communication, how we deliver the message is as important as what we say or the specific words we use. The expression on our faces, how long we prolong our gaze, the gestures we use, our posture, the way we walk, the tone of our voice, and so forth often tell more to students than the words we say. In our day-to-day interpersonal exchanges the nonverbal code is crucial in defining and in clarifying the verbal code; nonverbal behavior “blends” with the verbal message to best convey meaning, not only our own meaning (what we are trying to communicate), but what the student means as well (what the child is trying to communicate). Major ways in which the nonverbal message blends with the verbal message to convey meaning are (Adapted from DeVito, 2001; Hargie, 2011; Knapp and Hall, 2010): 1. Repeating. Nonverbal communication can simply repeat what was said verbally. Telling the student to return to her seat and pointing to the child’s chair is an example of repetition. 2. Complementing. By giving more information, nonverbal behavior extends and/or elaborates on the verbal message; for example, drawing a map in the air to describe the location of an object. When the verbal and the nonverbal codes complement each other the message is clearer and can be decoded easier and more accurately. Complementary gestures are also known as illustrators. 3. Substituting. Nonverbal behavior can also be a substitute for the verbal message. For example, Ms. Vera leaving her classroom at 3:00 in the evening with a slouched posture and a facial expression that is a substitute for the statement, “What a lousy day I just had!”
4. Conflicting. Nonverbal communication can contradict, intentionally or unintentionally, what was said. For example, Frankie saying to Ms. Vera, “I feel fine” with a clinched jaw, tightened fists, and an angry tone of voice, suggesting an internal state of agitation and turmoil. In a conflicting message, verbal and nonverbal signals are communicating two incongruent messages. When a conflicting message takes place the nonverbal code predominates; Ms. Vera will be able to clarify the true meaning of Frankie’s message to the extent that she can “read” accurately the child’s nonverbal signals. 5. Accenting. Nonverbal behavior can amplify parts of the verbal message. Accenting is similar to underlining or italicizing written words to bring attention to them. In spoken language, by putting more stress in certain words than in others, we underline the importance of the stressed words. We frequently use movements of the head and/or hands to emphasize specific words or a specific message; for example, banging our fist on the desk to stress that we feel strongly about a specific issue. Another example of accenting would be Ms. Vera telling Frankie, “I feel really disappointed with this behavior” while frowning; frowning accentuates the teacher’s disappointment. An accenting signal is a kind of complementary signal; for example, frowning and shaking her head when recounting the issue both complement and emphasize the teacher’s feelings of disapproval. 6. Attenuating. This is the opposite of accenting; when we attenuate the verbal message, we tone down parts of the message. For example, expressing her disappointment with the behavior using a soft tone of voice and exhibiting a relaxed posture. With her mild smile, Ms. Vera tempered a message sent to reprimand. The negative part of the
message was toned down with more positive and accepting nonverbal signals. Together, accenting and attenuating gestures are known as modifiers of the verbal message, because they help us in delivering either a more or a less extreme message. 7. Regulating. Regulators help us separate and mark speech turns. For example, to indicate that she finished talking and was expecting for Frankie to start talking, Ms. Vera increased her eye contact with the child. When she wanted to talk again, Ms. Vera raised her index finger. As we can see, nonverbal signals have a crucial role in any communicative experience, this being particularly true within the context of emotional or therapeutic communication. Nonverbal signals are considered more spontaneous, harder to fake, less likely to be manipulated, and consequently more believable than any words that the child can say (Knapp and Hall, 2010). For all these reasons, paying close attention to the nonverbal behavior displayed during the course of a therapeutic interaction is fundamental for both grasping in-depth meaning of the child’s message, and from the teacher’s perspective, sending the nonverbal signals that will elicit the right emotions and will influence the right state of mind in a distraught child.
Chapter 2 The Role of Feelings in Emotional Communication
us is important to us, helping us in relating with our environment in terms of things that we like (e.g. love) and do not like (e.g. hate). The same emotion can stay with us for years (e.g. loving our kitten forever), but our feelings are short-term, sometimes lasting only a few minutes or even seconds; for example, feeling scared when we lost sight of our kitten, only to feel relieved once we find her. Our feelings may result from our emotions, for instance, when we experience the emotion of love, we may also experience the related feeling of happiness. In addition, feelings can be triggered by our physical senses; for example, feeling warmth or cold. Emotions, on the other hand, always come from our mind. Feelings are sometimes called sensations or attitudes. With our vocabulary of feelings, we label the things that happen to us, negative or positive, in emotional terms. The more limited our vocabulary of feelings is, the less precise our emotional experience will be perceived and recounted. Conversely, the more feeling words we can use to talk about an event, the richer our experience and our understanding of that event will be. This is true for children as well as for adults. If your students are like mine were, chances are that they will be recounting their emotional experiences using a limited repertoire of feeling words, restricting their feelings to being sad, mad, happy, or the all-time
he internal states known as emotions are considered more comprehensive and long-term than those internal affairs known as feelings. Our emotions deliver the message that the world around
favorite “nice.” Most kids of all ages and backgrounds reveal very limited skills in acknowledging and in labeling their feelings accurately, not only that, but kids assume that the way they feel at the moment is the whole experience; for example, saying, “I hate Linda!” to talk about a temporary misunderstanding with Linda. As Karns (1994) states, for kids, “Feelings are black and white. Sad is sad. Mad is mad. Glad is great” (p. 21). Children need to learn the language of feelings. When adults learn to listen and to validate all feelings, including the ones that we do not like, we teach children to appreciate and validate their own feelings, including the ones that they do not like. In addition, when adults listen to children’s feelings, we open the door that allows children to talk about how they feel without fear of being ridiculed or their feelings being dismissed. When we communicate to children that we understand and validate their emotional experience, we start talking the language of therapeutic communication. We can describe emotional communication as ways of talking that facilitate for children to talk about their troubling experiences, including articulating the thoughts and processing the feelings that were part of those experiences. In schools, most attempts to manage conflictive student-to-student and/or teacher-tostudent interactions focus on recollecting facts (what happened), or in understanding story content. For the most part, little is discussed about the feelings that run parallel to that experience; that is, little is known and processed about the context of children’s stories. Within the realm of therapeutic communication, along with the content, it is essential that we help children recognize and process the specific feelings that put those facts in the right perspective. When we pay attention to how a distraught child retells the experience emotionally (how the child is feeling about the experience, for example, “I’m pissed with Linda; she humiliated me”), we can learn a lot about the context of the experience, that is, we
learn a lot about how the child perceives and feels about the experience. This in turn helps us understand why the child displays some behaviors but not others. With the following classification of feelings, we can help children understand the emotional context in the stories they tell (Adapted from Knapp, 2007):
Knapp divides negative feelings in five sub-categories: 1. Frustration. We experience frustration when we are not able to satisfy something that we want or need. 2. Anger. Feeling angry is a natural emotional reaction to hurt, loss, or disappointment. 3. Depression. Depression is anger trapped and turned inward. A depressed individual feels fearful of what might happen if she reveals her angry feelings to others. As the author states, sadness is not depression. Sadness is an emotional expression associated with a recent hurt or loss (e.g. the death of our kitten), whereas depression is considered an interruption of the flow of feelings. 4. Anxiety. Anxiety is the anticipation of being hurt or of losing something. Real or imagined, there is a threat looming in the horizon for the anxious individual. 5. Guilt. When we believe that what we think, the way we feel, what we do (actions or behavior), and/or what we fail to do (inactions) are unacceptable to others, we experience guilt. Feeling guilty stems from believing that either we did something wrong or we failed to do
something that we needed to do. Consequently, our feelings of guilt feed thoughts of being bad and of deserving punishment.
Knapp (2007) organizes positive feelings into two main categories: 1. Strength or being sure about oneself; that is, being sure that we have the skills and abilities to cope effectively with the circumstances surrounding us. 2. Happiness or the state of personal satisfaction that results from our emotional and physical needs being met. Alternatively, the same list of feelings can be presented to children under the two main categories of unpleasant (negative) and pleasant (positive). It is important that, when discussing feelings with children, we stay away from evaluative language such as good/bad or right/wrong, so that we convey the message that each and every feeling is to be understood and validated because, even when we experience an unpleasant feeling, all feelings tell us something about ourselves and about those things that matter to us. On Table 2.1 we compiled a list of words that relates to emotional states or feelings grouped by similarity; for example, affective states such as certain, independent, and confident are listed under the broader category of confidence. Used in partnership with the 18 facts about feelings detailed on the next section, we can use these two resources to help children understand the instrumental role that feelings play in influencing behavior.
Facts About Feelings
When feelings are both strong and unpleasant or negative, they can disrupt our behavioral, physiological, and thinking processes (Kassinove and Sukhodolsky, 1995). Children that exhibit behavior deficits show limited skills in coping with what they perceive as very strong and very negative feelings, and due to this limited ability in recognizing, labeling, and processing their feelings; that is, in talking about their feelings, these children “act out the feeling” instead. Because children’s behavior problems highly correlate with limited skills in dealing with strong and unpleasant feelings (e.g. anger, guilt, and embarrassment), it is important for school personnel to become acquainted with these common affective states. Is common knowledge in the therapeutic realm that, in order to understand children’s behavior, we must understand children’s feelings first. Openly and consistently talking about all kinds of feelings with children is always a good starting point. Use the following facts to introduce and/or supplement a discussion of feelings with children: 1. Feelings are normal. We all have feelings. 2. People are capable of many different feelings. We are entitled to all of them. 3. There are simultaneous feelings; that is, different feelings can exist or be experienced at the same time. For example, we may feel happy and sad at the same time, or we may feel happy, sad, and surprised simultaneously. 4. We can group similar feelings together. For example, sad, gloomy, melancholic, and the blues are similar feelings. 5. Sometimes contradictory feelings coexist. This contradiction can make us feel confused, and even angry.
6. Some feelings are pleasant and some feelings are unpleasant. 7. Some feelings are stronger than others. Some feelings are very strong. 8. Feelings are temporal; no feeling lasts forever. 9. When one feeling moves away, another feeling replaces it. 10.Feelings are neither good nor bad, right nor wrong, true nor false. We do not have to judge our feelings. 11.Anger is a normal feeling. We all feel angry at one time or another. 12.Feeling angry at something or with someone is okay. However, what we do when we are feeling angry can get us into trouble. 13.There is a difference between feeling angry and “doing angry things” such as hitting, kicking, cursing, punching, screaming, or hurting others. Anger is just a feeling; acting out our anger is the behavior. 14.We can “feel the feeling” but we do not have to act it out. 15.Feelings are not facts; that is, we cannot verify feelings in an objective manner. We turn our feelings into facts only if we act them out. 16.Our feelings and our thoughts are just for us; our feelings do not affect other people. On the other hand, our behavior (actions or what we do) has an influence on other people. 17.When we feel anger or any other strong feeling, we do not have to act it out. It is best that we recognize the feeling, and then, we redirect it in a more positive way, that is, we redirect our feeling in a way that does not hurt another person or ourselves. 18.We “feel the feeling” but we choose our behavior.
Table 2.1. Feelings List
Admiration: awe, captivated, delighted, fascinated, reverent Aggression: aggressive, brawl, hateful, violent Anger: aggravated, agitated, angered, angry, annoyed, bad, bitter, bothered, bugged, choleric, cranky, discomforted, disturbed, enraged, exasperated, frustrated, furious, grouchy, grumpy, illtempered, inconvenienced, indignant, infuriated, irascible, irate , irritated, mad, moody, mortified, outraged, rampaged, resentful, ruffled, shocked, sore, temperamental, testy, uncomfortable, upset, wrathful Anxiety: agitated, anxious, apprehensive, awful, concerned, discomforted, dismayed, distraught, distressed, dreadful, fussy, impatient, preoccupied, solicitous, tense, troubled, turmoil, uneasy, worried, worrisome Apathy: apathetic, bored, unenthusiastic, unmotivated Appreciation: appreciated, appreciative, cared, cherished, esteemed, liked, loved, pleased, prized, respected, treasured, valued Attention: attentive, curious, interested Aversion: animosity, aversive, detest, disapproving, disgusted, dislike, grudging, resentful Bad: cruel, ill-will, malicious, mean, naughty Betrayal: betrayed, disloyal, resentful, unfaithful Bravery: audacious, bold, brave, courageous, fearless, gutsy, heroic, intrepid, unafraid, valiant Calmness: calmed, eased/at ease, free from trouble, lighthearted, patient, peaceful, placid, relaxed, serene, tranquil, undisturbed Confidence: awesome, certain, confident, independent, secure, self-confident, self-reliant, sure Defiance: antagonistic, argumentative, aversive, bravado, defiant, disobedient, hostile, noncompliant, oppositional Distress: afflicted, agitated, agonizing, anguished, breakdown, burnout, discomforted, distressed, disturbed, exhausted, hurt, miserable, overwhelmed, strained, stressed, tense, troubled, turmoil, unsettled, worried Embarrassment: abashed, ashamed, blushed, disconcerted, embarrassed, humbled, humiliated, mortified, offended, self-conscious Enjoyment: enjoyable, joyful, nice, pleasant Excitement: excited, frenetic, frenzied, impatient
Fear: afraid, alarmed, apprehensive, dismayed, fearful, frantic, frightened, horrified, intimidated, nervous, petrified, scared, shocked, startled, terrified, terrorized Frustration: demoralized, disappointed, discouraged, disenchanted, disheartened, disillusioned, dispirited, frustrated, overwhelmed Guilt: blameful, contrived, guilty, remorseful, (feeling) responsible, tortured Happiness: cheerful, cheery, glad, good spirits, happy, high-spirited, joyful, joyous, jubilant, lighthearted, merry, pleased, sunny Hurt: afflicted, agonizing, anguished, awful, burdened, desperate, destroyed, devastated, distraught, heart ached, heartbroken, hurt, in pain, miserable, resentful, ruined, tormented, tortured, troubled, unhappy, upset Indifference: apathetic, detached, indifferent, unemotional, uninterested Insecurity: agonizing, ambivalent, conflicted, confused, insecure, having mixed feelings, turmoil, unresolved Love: adore, affection, caring, compassionate, cordial, heartfelt, infatuated, loving, sympathetic, warm Mixed: bittersweet Motivation: competitive, curious, challenged, decided, determined, enthusiastic, fired, firm, interested, motivated, passionate, resolute, resolved Nervousness: agitated, apprehensive, awkward, edgy, excitable, fidgety, fussy, impatient, jittery, jumpy, nervous, restless, tense, uneasy, worried, worrisome Optimistic: confident, hopeful, positive Other: envious, jealous, obsessed Pessimistic: demoralized, despair, desperate, discouraged, disheartened, dispirited, grave, helpless, hopeless, negative, self-defeating, unworthy Pride: awesome, boastful, bragging rights, proud Sadness: anguished, blues, cheerless, depressed, disconsolate, gloomy, grieving, heart ached, heartbroken, inconsolable, in pain, languished, low in spirits, melancholic, miserable, mourning, nostalgic, sad, sorrowful, unhappy Surprise: amazed, astonished, shocked, surprised, wonder Vengeance: revengeful, spiteful, vengeful, vindictive
Chapter 3 The Therapeutic EnvironmentPrinciples, Skills, and Steps
managed classrooms, with thirty something characters (including the teacher) interacting in a room that is always too crowded and too clustered, both interpersonal (between students) and intrapersonal (internal or individual) conflict seems almost inevitable. For more than six hours a day every day, chances are that we make several decisions that directly impact students’ affective states; for example, quickly deciding a fair way to handle a sudden disagreement between Joshua and Timothy when both children, loudly and angrily, are claiming full rights over the same library book. Some hurt feelings are easier for us to deal with; other more in-depth feelings, most of them initially confined to the intrapersonal or single child experience, but quickly spreading and becoming a more interpersonal event (i.e. quickly influencing other students and disrupting the overall classroom atmosphere), are harder to manage. For example, Melanie’s morning tantrums or Ricky’s angry outbursts that always seem to erupt so unexpectedly and unprovoked. Typically, our good intentions, common sense, classroom experience, and a genuine interest in helping children guide our efforts, and these informal and unstructured guidelines constitute the main framework for our supportive or guidance interventions. If we truly want to help children in distress, facilitating for
ost of us, at one time or another and in a spontaneous manner have found ourselves giving support, encouragement, and advice to a child or to children in distress. Even in the best
our students to cope with hurt, painful, or unpleasant feelings before those unresolved feelings start manifesting themselves in disruptive and/or dysfunctional classroom behaviors, is in our best interest to understand and to learn how to handle, smoothly and efficiently, those troubling feelings. A therapeutic classroom is by no means lacking on feelings; quite the opposite, therapeutic teachers provide an accepting classroom environment where all feelings are validated, facilitating for children to perceive, process, and express the emotional context embedded in the troubling or conflictive experience. Fundamental principles of the therapeutic environment empower children, encouraging children to do as much as they can to better themselves while strengthening emotional awareness and coping skills. A structured framework aligned with the supportive principles of the therapeutic environment follows.
Easier or harder to manage, intrapersonal or interpersonal, it is important that teachers realize that from the distressed child’s perspective, all hurt feelings are equally relevant or important; simply put, the way the child feels about the troubling event matters to the child. At the precise moment in which the child’s feelings are respected, acknowledged, and treated with much care and sensitivity a therapeutic teacher-student interaction is born. As Knapp (2007) indicates, “Respect can be thought of as holding another person’s feelings, beliefs, and thoughts in as high a regard as you hold your own” (p. 17). Respect and sensitivity for children’s feelings are evident in attitudes and actions such as: Putting the Focus on the Child (The “It’s All About You” Approach). In the therapeutic interaction, the focal point always remains on the
child (what the child needs and wants); a minute spent on the teacher (i.e. on what the teacher wants or does not want) is a minute taken away from the child and the child’s issue. The therapeutic interaction is always other-centered (DeVito, 2001), that is, always has the child’s best interests in mind. Showing Interest in the Child. Quoting Goulston (2010), in a therapeutic context is important for us to “be more interested than interesting” (page 55). When our attention is focused on those things that matter to us, but do not necessarily matter to the child, or we focus our attention on those “cool” words that we want to say to the child, we miss the rare and valuable opportunity of truly grasping the real meaning of what the child is saying and of truly understanding what the child wants and needs. And when we fail in grasping indepth meaning, we are not able to connect with or to reach anyone. Adapting the author’s thinking to the classroom setting, if we want to have a therapeutic exchange with the distraught student, first we need to be interested in the child—his life, his history, his story. Where is this child coming from? How did this child get to where he is today? What does this child know? What this child does not know? (pp. 5657) As Goulston states, “By practicing the art of being interested, the majority of people can become fascinating teachers; nearly everyone has an interesting story to tell” (p. 57). In a therapeutic classroom, the teacher makes it her/his mission to discover something interesting, and better yet, something fascinating, about each and every student in the class. Keeping Our Own Opinions and Feelings Under Control. No matter how strongly we feel about the issue or the child’s behavior, we need
to free ourselves from judgmental attitudes and/or opinions. This does not mean that we will not have an opinion about the issue; of course we will have opinions and personal feelings about all issues. What this means is simply that we remain flexible and open to any new information that helps us understand the child’s point of view, especially if the information contradicts and/or challenges our own preconceptions. In dealing with children’s troubling feelings and difficult behaviors, a precursory step would be to do a “belief-system check” in order for us to keep our own opinions, attitudes, and/or feelings balanced and under control. Only when we are able to put our own attitudes aside, we will also be able to truly understand the issue from the child’s point of view or perspective, as opposed to the limiting perspective of our own pre-conceptions. In addition, under no circumstances our feelings about the issue or about the child’s behavior pattern should restrict and determine the way that we are interacting with the child. Giving Positive Regard. The principle of positive regard is founded on Carl Roger’s popular client-centered model (adapted for children as the child-centered model). When we give positive regard to children like Melanie or Ricky, we clearly communicate that, regardless of the outcome, nothing is more important to us than this child’s value, worth, and uniqueness. Simply put, this child deserves all the time and energy that we invest in her or him. All therapeutic challenges presented to Melanie or to Ricky are framed within a positive and optimistic context, as opposed to a negative, pessimistic, or punitive framework. For instance, rather than blaming Ricky for his angry setback, we give feedback, engaging the child in a constructive
dialogue of what went wrong and of what he can do the next time to make it better. Most importantly, we keep reminding Ricky and we keep him focused on those past accomplishments (i.e. of those times when he succeeded in remaining free from angry outbursts) and personal strengths (e.g. Ricky’s strong will, his ability to remain on task, and coping strategies that the child already knows) that ultimately will be instrumental in reaching the desired outcome or goal. Our main message to Ricky is that, once he understands what went wrong (or what is not working for him) he can work in removing the obstacles that block progress. With this new awareness, Ricky can discard old, disruptive behaviors and ineffective ways (i.e. angry outbursts and acting-out) to deal with problem situations, renewing his effort and trying again; this time, using a more efficient coping strategy and alternative behaviors. And because we value and cherish the unique individual that Ricky is, we honestly and genuinely want him to succeed, building on the child’s confidence that we are going to work with him and for him from beginning to end. Knapp (2007) equates giving positive regard with an “I’m on your side attitude” (p. 19). By supporting Ricky unconditionally (i.e. giving unconditional acceptance or accepting the child with no preconditions or strings attached), we are committing ourselves to work hard in helping Ricky succeed, conveying the positive expectations that we believe in Ricky and that we believe in the child’s ability to reach his behavior goal. Building on Strengths. Paying close attention to strengths, identifying current skills (what children can do) and abilities (what children are able to do), and then using strengths, current skills, and abilities to develop better-adjusted coping skills give us the framework for
teaching children how to self-regulate emotions and behavior. In the therapeutic environment, even what it appears to be a minor strength or what is perceived as a brief halt in a disruptive behavior pattern is noted and enhanced by the teacher. Helping the Child Develop Goals. Instead of doing the work for the child, the therapeutic teacher reinforces self-determination and independence by coaching the student to do as much as she can for herself, collaboratively (i.e. teacher with child) identifying and developing meaningful goals, giving feedback on progress, and encouraging the child throughout the process. Giving Choices to the Child. In a therapeutic verbal exchange, instead of saying, “No time for drawing. You have to finish your division worksheet,” we say, “Do you want to finish your division worksheet now, or in twenty minutes? If you finish now, whatever time is left, you can use it as drawing time.” This sounds like a very simple verbal intervention for what sometimes may not be a simple problem (e.g. the child’s difficulty completing tasks), but, by consistently giving choices to a child with social (interactional) and/or behavior deficits, we are recognizing that decisions about how to handle the relationship and/or behavior issue belong to the child, not to the teacher. More than anything, therapeutic language is choice language: the teacher helps the child understand the consequences for her good and bad behavior choices; the child makes the choice. Respecting the Child’s Right to Refuse. As Knapp (2007) states, this is one of our greatest challenges in a therapeutic interaction: honoring the child’s right to self-determination even when we may not agree with the child’s decision, actions, inactions, potential outcomes, and
belief systems. In the therapeutic interaction, we support, facilitate, and encourage but the child is the primary decision-maker.
The “Therapeutic Attitude”
As indicated by Kottler and Kottler (2000), teachers equipped with basic helping skills are able to help children gain better clarity of their feelings, better understanding of their motives, and greater resolve in following through on a plan to change the behavior. Helping skills allow teachers to create better relationships with students in a shorter period of time (pp. 3-4). The process of helping children, the authors continue, comes as an “attitude” or a helping mind-set that keeps the therapeutic teacher focused and receptive. The following therapeutic mind-set or helping skills was adapted from both Kottler and Kottler (2000) and Meier and Davis (1997): 1. Making Personal Contact. The success of any therapeutic intervention relies heavily on the quality of the interaction between the teacher and the student. In order to help, the teacher must be able to make contact with the child. Within the therapeutic context, making contact equates to being with the child, touching the child emotionally, and communicating with the child at the feelings level. We are not saying here that the teacher needs an already wellestablished relationship to be able to connect and to communicate with a distraught child. A positive relationship with the student will speed the emotional connection but the truth is that a moderate relationship, or even the absence of a previous relationship with the child, may evolve in an emotional connection if the teacher knows
how to make the distraught child feel listened, understood, and validated. Spending the first minutes of the interaction on “small talking” or casual conversation puts the child at ease and helps build rapport. We chitchat for a minute or two and then we redirect the child to the issue of concern. 2. Building a Relationship. Paraphrasing Kottler and Kottler (2000), the emotional connection or therapeutic interaction by itself is intrinsically healing. It gives comfort and support to the child. It motivates risk taking. Most importantly, the emotional connection becomes the core for everything else teachers do in the helping process. The authors offer some guidelines to build a helping or therapeutic relationship: Start with small incremental steps. Be sensitive to the student’s readiness level. Communicate your caring and intense interest. Show warmth and be accessible. Prove that you hear and understand what the child is saying. Demonstrate commitment to the student. Be consistent. Model an open and honest communication (p. 17). 3. Developing an Alliance for Change. From the emotional connection stems what we know in therapeutic settings as the alliance for change or working alliance. By extending understanding and support, we invite the student to ally and to collaborate with us, letting the child know that, as a trusted ally, we are going to put our best effort in helping him or her succeed: only if the child succeeds, we can
succeed. Our main job here is to engage the student in collaborating to resolve the issue of concern. Change is not going to happen if we rush through things and/or if we act carelessly, trying to force the student to commit or to do something for what the child does not feel ready yet. Similarly, change is not going to happen if the child lacks motivation. Therefore, it is always in our best interest to spend ample time in the crucial steps of building rapport and in allying with the child. We convey the positive expectation that the child is going to commit to change or self-improvement, and we show that we believe in the child’s ability to improve by relating with the student in a trusting, supportive, accepting, and optimistic way. 4. Listening More and Talking Less. Therapeutic teachers are skilled in interpersonal communication. A basic interpersonal communication skill is active listening; in emotional communication, we start with active listening and we progress to therapeutic listening. On chapter five we detail all listening skills; here, we introduce the most basic therapeutic communication rule: regardless of the listening level, the student is the one who always does most of the talking and the teacher is the one who needs to do most of the listening. In other words, the teacher should talk less than the child, and when the teacher talks, she or he must speak briefly, communicating main ideas in no more than two sentences each. Unfortunately, I have witnessed teachers and clinicians that, when they intervened with a distraught student, the teacher was the one who got carried away. My favorite anecdote happened a few years back when, after ten minutes of continuous talking, the clinician finally stopped briefly and asked the child, “Do you have anything to say?” And this wise child complained, “Lady,
you talk too much!” So, our wise child told the well-intended but clearly unskilled clinician what was missing from the interaction to make it a helpful intervention (i.e. mouth shut- ears wide opened), but much to my dismay the clinician, oblivious to the child’s wisdom, responded with ten additional minutes of uninterrupted talking! 5. Building Awareness of Feelings. In therapeutic or emotional communication, children’s feelings are always a key indicator of what is relevant in the area of concern, that is, of what makes an issue troubling for the child. Many children are unaware of the quality of their feelings, showing extreme difficulty in describing feelings accurately. For example: Mr. Beck: How do you feel about losing the basketball game? Frankie: Bad. I’m upset. Describing feelings as bad, good, nice, mad, or upset gives little detail, failing in specifying either the intensity and/or the direction of the feeling. For instance, “upset” has one meaning when elaborated as feeling angry because the coach benched him unfairly and the child missed the last three minutes of the game, and a very different meaning when articulated as sadness because not playing those crucial three minutes left Frankie feeling that he failed his teammates. In the first situation we are dealing with anger and resentment; in the second situation we are dealing with sadness and disappointment. Getting the distraught child to recognize and to describe how he feels about the situation are the two primary challenges for both the teacher and the student. A core belief in emotional communication is that, building awareness of feelings brings both insight and relief of those troubling feelings.
6. Helping the Child Articulate the Troubling Situation in a Concrete Way. Help children describe the issue of concern sensorially; that is, talking about what they see, hear, and can touch. Most specifically, help the unsettled child articulate the troubling situation in terms of actions or behaviors. For example: Frankie: Anthony is mean to me! Mr. Beck: How exactly is Anthony mean to you? Give me an example of something that Anthony does that you do not like. Frankie: He calls me Pinocchio. Mr. Beck: How do you feel when Anthony calls you Pinocchio? Frankie: I feel mad. Everybody laughs. Mr. Beck: I want to make sure that I understand exactly how you feel; are you mad in the sense of feeling angry, or are you feeling embarrassed? Frankie: Yeah, the second one. I told Anthony to stop calling me that, but he keeps doing it. Mr. Beck: As I understand this, you are feeling frustrated because you already asked Anthony to stop calling you names, but you do not see anything good coming out of your request. You also feel embarrassed when you hear other children laughing. Am I getting this right? 7. Paying Close Attention to What the Child is Saying. Words and the way the child says them give us important clues about how the child perceives and interprets the problem situation. Permanent words like always or never almost invariably reveal a distorted and in many cases helpless view of the problem situation. For instance, there is a strong perception of being helpless (of not being in control) coming out of
statements such as, “I always mess up!” and “I will never have friends.” Similarly, absolute words like everybody (e.g. “Everybody thinks I’m stupid!”) and nobody (“Nobody wants to be my friend”) are a contributing factor in children’s low self-confidence and feelings of inadequacy. 8. Paying Closer Attention to What the Child Skips or Omits. One of my favorite words of advice to a therapeutic teacher in training is that, to efficiently manage children’s feelings and beliefs, we pay close attention to words or what the child is saying, but we pay even closer attention to what the child is not saying, or the details that the child skips or omits from his statements. The specific information that seems to be missing from the child’s pessimistic statements is crucial in helping the child assess the troubling situation in a more realistic (less troubling) way. When we identify the information that is missing or not stated in the child’s self-defeating statement, we help a child like Frankie substitute an “always-or-never” statement such as “I will never have friends” with a more accurate and less overwhelming “sometimes” statement such as, “Anthony does not like me and he is not particularly interested in being my friend. Oh well, that’s Anthony’s problem, not mine. Other kids do like me and I interact fine with them.” 9. Noticing Nonverbal Behavior. The child’s words will give us mainly content or facts, but to get emotional context and in-depth meaning, there is no better way than by keeping record of what the child is revealing through his body behavior. For instance, even if Frankie cannot put into words his true feelings about Anthony calling him names, by being vigilant to body language such as frowning, a
slouched posture, a hesitant tone of voice, and flushed cheeks, Mr. Beck can get significant clues about the true nature of the child’s feelings. 10.Pacing, and then Leading the Child. In the therapeutic realm, the well-known intervention of pacing and leading refers to how much direction we give at any particular time to the child. Most specifically, when we pace the child, we follow along in terms of what the child is saying and the feelings that give context to the child’s statements. For example: Frankie: I told Anthony to stop calling me that (Pinocchio), but he keeps doing it. Mr. Beck: Anthony keeps calling you names regardless of what you do. Here, Mr. Beck paced Frankie by paraphrasing the child’s concern. Nothing was added or taken away from Frankie’s statement, and Mr. Beck gave no direction to the child. With pacing, Frankie knows that Mr. Beck is paying attention and understanding. Restating the child’s thoughts or content (e.g. “You seem to be saying…”) and reflecting on the child’s feelings (i.e. recognizing feelings, for example, “You appear to be feeling…”) are two basic interventions to pace the child. To summarize, with pacing, we build consensus on what the child is thinking and feeling. Once we move in step with the student, we can then move ahead, leading the child in a new direction. More specifically, after giving the child time to tell the story as he sees it, or pacing, we skillfully move the story ahead by leading the child. Basically, leading is directing, something we can do by pointing in the direction of new information (of alternative ways of perceiving the
situation), by helping the child process the new information (insight building), and by helping the child establish a better-adjusted feelingsbehavior connection. Adapting Knapp’s (2007) definition of leading to the classroom, effective leading facilitates for the interaction to evolve in a productive way by eliciting further information and feelings, bringing focus to what is relevant, and prompting the child to think about the problem in a different way (p. 106). In one sentence, leading involves guiding the interaction in a meaningful direction. For detailed analysis and examples of how to use pacing and leading in the therapeutic interaction see Chapter 17. 11.Supporting More; Confronting Less. Like any adult, children listen more when they feel supported than when they feel confronted, so take advantage of this basic therapeutic skill and have children listen willingly to what you have to say by supporting and bonding with the child first. I want to share now one of the most insightful advices that I received earlier in my career, when I was a therapeutic teacher in training myself: “Have kids love you; when children care for you, trust you, and they respect you, they’ll do anything for you, even learn.” (Adapted from Nicki, my first mentor.) A rule of thumb in the therapeutic setting is that we confront as much as we support (Meier and Davis, 1997, p. 11). Once the trust and respect is there, we can use a therapeutic confrontation to build self-awareness and to increase motivation in the child. As a word of caution, a therapeutic confrontation does not mean opposing the child, but pointing out discrepancies in the child’s thinking, words, actions, and/or goals. (See Chapter 14 for more details.)
The Therapeutic Process: Steps
As a problem-solving effort, the child guidance or therapeutic process follows similar sequential steps. Kottler and Kottler (2000) list these five main steps: 1. Assessment. For us to be helpful, we first need an idea of what is going on. Counselors know this step as “the identification of the presenting complaint” (p. 20), accomplished by helping the child identify what is bothersome. Our focus here is in understanding how the child thinks and what the child needs. On this pacing step, we collect any background information relevant to the child’s concern. Initial interventions that help in collecting background information are asking questions, reflecting feelings, and clarifying content. 2. Exploration. The authors describe this second step as digging deeper; that is, discovering how the issue of concern is relevant and relates to the child. Here we apply the listening and reflecting techniques detailed on the coming sections of this book to help the child clarify thoughts and feelings even further. With sensitivity and understanding of the child’s experience, we start leading the child, helping her transition into a deeper level of awareness. 3. Understanding. As Kottler and Kottler indicate, “The deeper the exploration of feelings and thoughts, the more profound the insights” (p. 22). Building insight revolves around understanding why and how the problem develops, what the child is doing to sabotage her own progress, and what themes the child repeats over and over in her statements and/or behavior. More in-depth techniques such as
challenging, disputing, and therapeutic confrontation start at this level. 4. Action. As the authors indicate, “Without action to change one’s behavior, they (understanding and insight) are virtually worthless” (p. 23). In this action step, our efforts are focused in helping the child translate what she already knows and understands into an action plan that will get her what she wants. The two most important interventions in this action step are creating goals and social problemsolving (detailed on Chapter 16). 5. Evaluation. On this final stage in the therapeutic process, we help the child assess the extent to which she has reached her social-emotional goal. Progress should be measured both between steps (using substeps and mini-goals) and at the end of the intervention, so that we fix errors when they happen and modify the procedure if we need to. Assessments of progress help children visualize what they have accomplished as well as what they still need to do.
Part II Where Do I Start?
Chapter 4 Key Elements of a Therapeutic Interaction
n this chapter, we elaborate on the two pillars that give support and allow for the therapeutic interaction to evolve successfully: bonding with the student and the empathic connection.
Reaching the Unreachable Child with Rapport
A guiding principle in emotional or therapeutic teaching is that, the way students feel about us strongly influences how they respond to our directives and guidance. In plain language, the more children like us and want to please us, the better job we will do in persuading them to change. To bring change, therapeutic teachers build on relationships and the existing bond between child and teacher. In a therapeutic interaction, building rapport with the unsettled student is the cement that holds together the two columns of bonding and empathy. Establishing rapport means that we work in connecting with the child rather than controlling the child. With well-established rapport, teacher and student can join forces to create a behavior goal and to develop an action plan. In other words, teacher and student form an alliance that leads to change. In one sentence, in helping a distraught and/or oppositional child, first we pace and ally, and only then we try to lead and change. To start connecting and bonding with the distraught child it is imperative that we understand the child from her own point of view and experience; that is,
we need to see things “with the child’s eyes.” In the helping interaction, the ability to perceive the experience from the child’s perspective, (also known as putting ourselves in the child’s shoes and walking in the child’s shoes) is at the core of the empathic connection or empathy (i.e. awareness of others). When we empathize with the child, we free ourselves from any preconceived notion that may inhibit our ability to enter the child’s perceptual (what the child sees or hears), cognitive (her thoughts and beliefs), and emotional (feelings) world. In analyzing the troubling feeling and/or acting-out behavior, we suspend our judgment and evaluation of the situation long enough, so that we can assume the child’s internal frame of reference. The empathic connection builds upon our nonjudgmental understanding of what the child is experiencing, in particular, what the child wants or needs and how the child is feeling. Most specifically, an empathic connection answers questions such as: What is this child feeling? What this child needs that may be influencing the way she is behaving? What this child believes that might be contributing to this behavior? What this child expects from this situation that might be contributing to the feeling or behavior? What do I know already about this child (i.e. experience or history) that can help understand her current behavior? What social skill deficits might be influencing the behavior? (Adapted from Davis, Paleg, and Fanning, 2004.) Using Goulston’s (2010) terms, with an empathic connection, we help the child “feel felt” (p. 48). When an antagonistic interaction seems to be taking us nowhere, making the child “feel felt” can bridge communication gaps and repair
feelings of anger and resentment. Equally important, making the child “feel felt” can be the turning point in the interaction, shifting the child from defensiveness and opposition to listening and weighing what we have to say. Goulston lists six steps to making another person “feel felt” that we can easily adapt to children: 1. Attach an emotion to what you think the child is feeling, such as frustrated, angry, or afraid. 2. Say, “I’m trying to get a sense of what you’re feeling and I think it is _____.” (Fill-in an emotion.) Continue, “Is that correct? If it’s not, then what are you feeling?” Wait for the student to agree or correct you. 3. Then say, “How frustrated (angry, upset, etc.) are you?” Give the child time to respond, and be prepared for intense feelings. In addition, the child may have difficulty putting feelings into words, so help the child articulate feelings as needed. Do not answer back or judge, just listen and paraphrase. 4. Next, say, “And the reason you’re so frustrated (angry, upset, etc.) is because…?” Again, let the child vent. 5. Then say, “Tell me—what needs to happen for that feeling to feel better?” 6. Next say, “What part can I play in making that happen? What part can you play in making that happen?” (p. 51) As a word of caution, empathy, or feeling as the child feels, experiencing what the child is experiencing from her point of view and without losing our own identity (adapted from DeVito, 2001) is not the same as sympathy. Sympathy essentially means to feel for the child, for instance, feeling sorry for the child (e.g. “Oh you, poor thing…” or “That’s so sad!”). With a sympathetic expression, we
share the same feeling; for instance, both child and teacher are feeling sad or both child and teacher are feeling happy. With an empathic or empathetic statement (e.g. “You seem overwhelmed…”), we show the student that we noticed the way she is feeling without owning her feeling; the child may be overwhelmed, but we are not. With a sympathetic statement we build rapport fast; with an empathetic statement, we also build rapport fast and then, we open the door to start dealing constructively with the troubling issue.
Guidelines to Develop Empathic Understanding and Rapport
Simple but powerful daily routines such as saying the child’s name, greeting the child in the mornings, making eye contact with the child, and smiling to the child more often will do wonders in switching our interactions with the difficult to handle student from antagonistic to collaborative. More specific things that teachers can do routinely to create and/or strengthen rapport with a challenging student are: Be flexible. Do not have a rigid, fixed expectation of what should be normal behavior in the child. Look for things in the child to cherish and appreciate, not for things to criticize and judge. Pay attention to and acknowledge the child’s skills, talents, and abilities. Notice positive behavior. Simply noticing what the child does well increases those behaviors. Consistently acknowledging positive behavior improves your relationship with the difficult to handle student.
Use the 4:1 rule: say four positive things for each negative thing that you say to the child. On your daily interactions with the student, make it a habit to use both praise and encouragement. With praise we focus on our own feelings, for example, saying, “It makes me happy to see how well you managed the situation with Andrew;” with encouragement, we focus on the child’s effort. For example, saying, “It was hard for you when Andrew took your sharpener without asking you, but you stayed calm.” Make sure that your feedback to the child is behavior specific; that is, give feedback that describes what you see and hear. Describe your observations without judgments or interpretations. Students with social or behavior deficits mostly expect to receive criticism or negative feedback from others. Because of this negative feedback, these children’s self-image is poor. We can build a more positive self-image, and at the same time develop a more trusting relationship with the student by doing special talking time with the child. Weekly, spend ten-to-fifteen minutes talking with the child about something the child likes, something the child is good at, or about any random topic, as long as the child cares for the topic. Make sure this special talking time belongs exclusively to the child, and keep your ears wide open; you will be amazed about how many fascinating things you will discover about this child. When we learn fascinating things about another person, suddenly that person seems less aversive and much more interesting to interact with. Criticize and question the child’s actions or behavior, not the child’s character or identity. Eliminate from your language any message directed to the child’s identity, for example, “You have no respect for
anyone!” or “Can’t you do anything right?” By simply changing negative and pessimistic messages into positive and inspiring ones, teachers encourage better behavior and increase compliance. Ask for the child’s advice and/or opinions. For example, you might say, “I’m thinking on moving the library center to this corner. That will give us more space to move around the room. What do you think; where do you like it best?” Alternatively, request for the child to share his expertise on video games by advising you on which video game you can buy your eight-year-old for his coming birthday. Make the child’s advice even more important by making it public, announcing to the class that you followed the child’s advice. The disruptive pattern exhibited by children with behavior deficits and/or troubled students makes an impact on everybody that comes in close contact with them, including other students in the room and staff. In interpersonal communication theory, individuals in interaction are seemed as members of a bigger system (environment) in which they (individuals) are mutually influencing and reinforcing each other (i.e. keeping the system or environment as it is). More specifically, what one member of the system does (disruptive student or teacher) influence and reinforce what the other members in the interaction will do (the classroom environment) and vice versa. It is also believed that by changing one part of the system we automatically change the whole system. In classroom terms, either by changing what the disruptive student does or changing what the teacher does, we automatically change the classroom atmosphere. The main implication here is that by working in changing and in improving our part in a strained system, teachers can pace and then
lead troubled students in changing and improving their part in the system. To better understand our role in reinforcing and maintaining a strained system or an antagonistic classroom atmosphere, we can start by honestly answering self-evaluative questions such as: a. How am I responding to this child’s behavior? b. How do I interact with this child when she is angry? How do I reinforce her troubled feelings? c. Do I give attention to this child when she acts out, but ignore her when she is calmed and behaving positively? d. How am I sustaining the way we relate? Do I mirror her behavior so that we both end up yelling at each other and feeling angry? We can use our knowledge of ourselves (i.e. wants, needs, and expectations) to develop insight about children’s troubling feelings. For example: a. What would I want if I were this child? b. What would I need if I were this child? c. What would I expect from others and from the situation if I were this child? Request feedback both from the child and your class about things they would like to see different. In particular, ask which of your behaviors they would like to see you change, and then, change those behaviors. Comply with students’ requests so that they comply with your requests when is your turn to ask. Always remember that, if the troubled, anger-prone, and/or acting-out student can change, so can you.
Talking with a Distraught Child: Enhanced Interventions that Build On-the-Spot Rapport and Defuse Troubling Feelings
1. Reframe the conflict as something happening within the child, not something happening between the child and you or between the child and another student. For example, saying, “You find yourself in this predicament because you let your angry feelings dictate your behavior.” 2. Express the conflict as happening between the child and an impersonal rule, not between the child and you; for example, “The rule in this class is no throwing spitballs.” 3. Use reflective and therapeutic listening. Teachers of students with social and behavior deficits need to practice the skill of therapeutic listening the same way we practice any other teaching skill. Listen to the child carefully and without passing judgment, letting go of what is in your mind at the moment so that you can fully concentrate on what the child is saying. While taking notes mentally, do not speculate about the hidden meaning of the behavior, and do not dispute what the child is saying. Instead, be curious about what the child says. Acting out of curiosity, encourage the child to tell you more. 4. Do not be in a hurry to take over, as a rule the teacher should talk less than the child talks. If you find yourself doing most of the talking, that is a strong indication that you are not listening therapeutically. Early in the interaction, let the child lead while you follow. Initial interventions are mainly about pacing or understanding; to clarify the issue of concern, focus on asking questions that encourage the student to expand or to elaborate (e.g. “Can you tell me more?”), or ask
questions to help the child remove any part in the message that is ambiguous or unclear. In addition, you can rephrase what the student is saying to make sure that “you got it right,” or you can summarize. For more on these therapeutic listening techniques, see the next chapter. 5. Refrain from demanding that the student opens to you before she feels ready. Use a door opener instead; that is, offer an invitation to talk but without forcing the child. For example, asking, “Would you like to sit or to walk with me so that you can tell me more about it?” When you feel that you have enough information about the problem, challenge the child by saying, “Are you strong enough to know what is really happening inside your head?” 6. Say what you believe the child is trying to say but does not know how to put into words. For example, “Your feelings are hurt, right?” 7. Do not promise the child that you are going to fix the problem for him. Instead ask, “How can we fix this?” or “What can I do to help you fix this?” These two questions convey the message that it is the child’s responsibility, not the teacher’s job, to solve the problem situation. 8. Give information (observations about what happened) rather than giving advice or telling the child what to do. The information that you provide should guide the child in how to handle the current problem. Students with social and behavior deficits need to learn how to deal with conflictive interactions and troubling feelings in a socially acceptable way. 9. In a therapeutic confrontation, we point out the discrepancy between what the child wants and needs (e.g. “I want Sharona to play with
me”) and the child’s actions (e.g. “I hear that you want Sharona to play with you, but you hit and curse her. The way I see this, hitting and cursing at Sharona is not helping you win her trust, much less become her friend”). Therapeutic teachers confront troubled and anger-prone students only as much as we have supported the child; that is, if we support, we can confront; if we never support, then we do not confront. 10.Point out the discrepancy between what the child says (e.g. “I feel fine”) and what the child does, for example, “Throwing your markers across the room tells me that you feel bothered about something.” 11.Point out the discrepancy between the child’s verbal message (e.g. “I feel fine”) and the child’s nonverbal behavior (e.g. “You say that you are fine, but you look and sound upset”). 12.Challenge the child to do the opposite of what others expect her to do; for example, “I bet you will surprise everybody by finishing the afternoon without a tantrum.” 13.Do not counter the child’s self-defeating beliefs (e.g. “I cannot do it!”) by taking the opposite stance (e.g. “You can do it if you try”). Instead, approach the negative belief from the empirical point of view advocated by cognitive psychologists, e.g., “Would you be willing to test your belief?” 14.Do not join a power struggle; focus on what the student wants and needs, not on what you want or need. 15.Do not focus in proving to the child that you are in charge. Ask what it would take for the two of you to solve the problem and offer to do your part first.
16.If you feel uncomfortable with what the child tells you, share your feelings but without rejecting the child. For example, if you hear that another student was attacked by gang members to steal his jacket, do not label the child or situation negatively (e.g. “That’s terrible! How could you do something like that?”). Instead, share how you would feel in a similar situation, for example, saying, “I would be devastated if someone attacks my child to steal his jacket.” This way, you show the child the effect of his behavior on others; however, no matter what happens or what you hear, resist the impulse to react emotionally. 17.When discussing troubling situations such as the one above, focus on your own feelings, not on the child’s shortcomings. In other words, say what you like and do not like about the behavior, not what is wrong or bad with the child. 18.Balance any criticism or negative feedback that you give to the child with positive remarks; always start the therapeutic interaction by saying something positive about the child. You can start with a phrase like, “I like the way that you…” 19.Acknowledge the child’s feelings, for example, saying, “You look pissed.” 20.Use sympathy and share your understanding of the child’s feelings. For example, say, “If that happens to me, I would be upset too.” 21.Defuse the angry feeling by making the feeling less intense or hostile. Rephrase what the child says, for example: Christopher: I hate Ms. Johnson! Ms. Williams: You are not happy with Ms. Johnson.
22.Come to an agreement with the child that change is necessary. The student must feel motivated to change the problem behavior before he is willing to work for it. 23.Build on what the student says and look for a common ground; that is, find something in which both the child and you agree and that you can accept. 24.Agree to what the child is saying, in whole or in part, and then add your own redirecting comment or suggestion. 25.Use a self-disclosure by revealing something similar that happened to you. However, be careful that you listen to the child’s story first and in full; do not “steal the story” from the child. The focus of a therapeutic interaction is always on the child, never on the teacher. 26.Use a self-disclosure by revealing your feelings about what the child is saying, for example, “That makes me feel sad.” 27.Use close proximity. Never reprimand, criticize, or give commands to a troubled child in front of his peers. Stand next to the child instead and give directives exclusively to the child, almost whispering and making sure that only the child can hear you. In like vein, when praising an older child with social deficits, use whisper praise to avoid bringing attention to the child and embarrassing the child. The older the child is the more whisper praise we use. 28.Monitor your verbal and nonverbal messages to the student; avoid making faces, rolling your eyes, sighing, or making any other gesture that reveals frustration and exasperation. 29.Use your body language and tone of voice to project calmness and being in control, and to remind the child that the two of you are allies
working to achieve the same goal (i.e. to improve the overall classroom atmosphere by improving the child’s behavior). 30.Create a mood matching. With this sophisticated pacing and leading technique, we start pacing by harmonizing our “body attitude” (posture and facial expression), gestures with hands or feet, breathing (rate and depth), and/or voice (volume, loudness, and speed) with some of the student’s key gestures. That is, we pair the emotional energy that the student is displaying in his troubling emotion with the emotional energy that we display. This does not mean that we mirror emotions (e.g. both student and teacher acting and talking angrily), but we approximate the intensity level of the specific emotion; more specifically, we display our “emotional energy” at a level of intensity that is slightly below the child’s intensity level. However, instead of displaying a similar “angry energy,” we display a positive emotion, for example, high concern or high interest. Gradually, we lower our emotional level (e.g. lower tone of voice, talking slower, moving slower, and acting more calm and serene) to lead the child into matching our calmer state, moving the child away from an “angry energy” and into a “calmer energy.” 31.Do not tell an agitated child to calm down; not only this remark reinforces the perception that the child is already in an agitated state, but also invalidates the child’s right to feel and to express anger. Is as if we are telling the child that her feelings are wrong or do not make sense. The first thing to do then is to validate the feeling by reassuring the child that based on her unique perspective of the situation the way she is feeling is understandable. Notice that we are not agreeing with the feeling; we are simply grasping the meaning of the feeling. Once
we validate the feeling, we tell the child, “I can see how this situation feels troubling to you. However, I need for you to remain calm, so that I can hear from you exactly what happened.” The phrase in italics presupposes that the child is already calmed and will stay that way, a highly influential persuasive trick. (See Chapter 7 for analysis about the role of presuppositions in persuading.) In addition, we support or give external structure to the child (“I need for you to…”), something reassuring and comforting to a child that is struggling to regain selfcontrol. 32.Although subjective, all feelings are perceived as facts to the person experiencing them. The child’s feelings of anger are real and they matter to her; therefore, do not waste precious time minimizing or denying the way the child is feeling. Calmly acknowledge and accept the troubling feeling and then help the child see how angry behaviors such as yelling, cursing, threatening, hitting, and/or kicking stand in the way of both getting her point across and of getting what she wants or needs. That is, lead the child in establishing a more realistic behavior-consequence connection.
Chapter 5 Therapeutic Listening
However, interpersonal communication falters when we do not listen to each other; simply put, very little can be shared or communicated without listening first. If we do not listen carefully, we miss relevant information. For this reason, listening is regarded as a prerequisite skill upon which all other interpersonal communication skills are predicated (Hargie, 2011). From a teacher’s perspective, a constructive teacher-to-student exchange can only take place when we pay attention to the student, so that we link our responses to the child’s message. Narrowing our classroom perspective to the context of emotional communication, teachers’ therapeutic listening skills rank first in helping an unsettled child deal with conflicted feelings; we are not going to be able to pass on important information to the child if we are not fully committed to listen to the student. The soothing and supportive value of listening therapeutically goes way beyond trying to understand fully what the child is saying. When our primary focus is on listening, we give a high compliment to the child by communicating, “I care about you, and nothing matters more than what you are saying. What you say is important to me.” The stronger our therapeutic listening skills, the better we understand those issues that matter to children and the more effective we can be in helping children change. From Hargie (2011), we get the following list of communicative goals, or what the
nterpersonal or face-to-face communication begins when two or more individuals share some kind of information, this information being in the form of concepts, beliefs, values, opinions and/or feelings.
author calls purposes of listening, served by the skill of listening (adapted for children): 1. To focus specifically upon the message that the child is communicating. 2. To gain a full, accurate insight into the child’s communication. 3. To critically evaluate what the child is saying. 4. To monitor the nonverbal signals accompanying the child’s verbal message. 5. To convey interest, concern, and attention. 6. To encourage full, open, and honest expression. 7. To develop a child-centered approach during the interaction. 8. To reach a shared and agreed understanding and acceptance with the child about both sides’ (teacher and student) goals and priorities (p. 182). Good listening or attending skills are for the benefit of children too. Starting on the next chapter, we elaborate on how to get children to pay attention to our therapeutic message, but here, we focus on how teachers can display good attending behaviors or listening skills so that we know how to recognize the cues that the child is sending, and learn to use those cues to grasp in-depth meaning in the emotional message.
We can categorize the skill of listening by levels, depending on how deeply we are paying attention. In therapeutic communication, most related levels are: Beginning Listening. We hear the first few words and then we start thinking about something else or about what we want to say in return. Partial Listening. We start listening with the best of our intentions, but at some point become distracted by our own thoughts, something that the student says, or events taking place around us. Selective Listening. This level involves listening for specific information while ignoring or filtering the other parts. We hear what we want to hear and pay little attention or distort the extraneous information or information in which we have no interest. In any of these three levels of interrupted listening (beginning, partial, and selective), our thoughts may start wandering anywhere else and then we start dreaming. Full Listening. When we are paying close attention to what the child is saying, committed in checking for understanding and in summarizing, we are in a full listening mode. Active listening starts at this level. Deep Listening. At this most intense level, we apply full listening skills so that we truly understand the child as an individual with unique wants, needs, and feelings. Deep listening enables us to listen “between the lines;” we hear the emotion, watch body language, and identify what the child wants and/or needs (the child’s communicative goal).
We can also categorize the skill of listening by types, starting with a basic discrimination of sounds and ending with deep listening. Discriminative listening, the most basic type, gives us the ability to identify differences between sounds. At the discriminative listening level, our goal is simply to scan and monitor auditory and/or visual stimuli, for example, listening to hear if a baby is crying. Next, we make sense of those sounds by listening for comprehension; this is known as the comprehension listening type. In comprehending, our vocabulary knowledge as well as the language rules of grammar and syntax come into play. The ability to extract key facts from the longer strings of information enhances our understanding. At the comprehending level, our emphasis is upon listening for central facts, main ideas, and relevant themes so as to fully understand the message. This type of listening is also known as content listening and informational listening. Among those listening types most relevant to listening therapeutically, we find: Evaluative Listening. This listening type is also known as judgmental, critical, or interpretive listening. If our evaluative listening is biased or one-sided, we are making judgments about what the child is saying, seeking to assess the veracity of what we hear. We adjudicate truthfulness according to our own beliefs and values, evaluating the message in terms of goodness or badness, worthiness or unworthiness. In the two-sided subtype, we take into consideration all sides of the argument or issue; our emphasis now is in listening for the main arguments in order to establish the strengths and weaknesses of each. Sympathetic Listening. In sympathetic listening, we connect with both the topic and the child emotionally, showing that we care by paying
close attention to the child and by sharing feelings. If the child expresses sadness, we show sadness; if the child expresses happiness, we show happiness. Active Listening. This is a structured way of listening and responding to the message. During active listening, we listen for meaning, giving our undivided attention to the child. Because we are in a full listening mode, we halt both our personal frame of reference and evaluative judgments. That is, we make no judgments or pass along no opinions; neither we give a solution to the problem. In an emotionally charged communication, an active listener listens for feelings, acknowledging the emotional content that the child is expressing. For example, saying, “You sound upset that…” or “You seem to feel frustrated by…” This is not the same as agreeing with the child; it is simply us stating that we understand what the child is communicating. Empathetic Listening. On this listening type we go beyond feeling sorry or happy for the child, looking for a deeper connection and fuller understanding of the child’s feelings. Here, we show commitment in attending to and in trying to understand the thoughts, beliefs, and feelings of the child. During empathetic listening, we pay close attention to the emotional signals that the child is sending us. The most important empathetic listening technique is putting ourselves in the child’s shoes, or experiencing the events the same way that the child is experiencing them. When we are truly empathetic, we put aside our own need to be heard or to take turns talking; instead, we focus on understanding, supporting, and motivating the child. The next two listening types, therapeutic
listening and reflective listening are more sophisticated forms of the empathetic listening type. Therapeutic Listening. To reach this skilled level of listening, we empathize with the child first, and then we use our empathic connection to help the child understand, develop, or change in some way. We use therapeutic listening in those situations where we are trying to help the child deal constructively with troubling feelings and/or with troublesome situations. Reflective Listening. Branching from Carl Roger’s client-centered model, this is a high-level empathetic listening type. Reflective listening is founded on the belief that the capacity for insight, problem-solving, and growth lies primarily in the child’s ability to understand the situation, to identify solutions, to select the most appropriate solution, and to responsibly implement the solution selected. During reflective listening, our guiding question is not “How can I help this child?” but “What can I do to help this child help herself?”
Obstacles to Effective Listening
As Van Slyke states (as cited on Hargie, 2011), a recurring problem in listening is that “We often listen with the goal of responding rather than listening with the goal of understanding” (p. 182). In other words, our main concern is with what we want to say and own point of view rather than with gaining a deeper insight into the child’s experience and perspective. From years of research in the
field of therapeutic listening, we compiled a list of blocks to listening that inhibit teachers’ ability in listening therapeutically to children: 1. Drifting in concentration, paying attention to other things, ideas, or people. 2. Filtering or listening selectively; that is, we listen only to what supports and reinforces our belief system. 3. Taking charge of the topic, ignoring what the child says. 4. Shifting or changing the topic when we do not feel comfortable with the message. This listening block is also called derailing. 5. Correcting the child, for example, saying, “That’s not what I heard happened” or “But you were the one who…” 6. Explaining it away or interpreting the message for the student (as opposed as with the student). For example, saying, “You got mad because…” or “You did this because…” 7. Jumping to conclusions to fill in any missing pieces in the message based on conclusions rooted on our past experiences with the child. As McKay, Davis, and Fanning (2009) state, “You tend to perceive what you are in the habit of perceiving” (p. 192). 8. Prejudging the child based on little or ambiguous information; we infer a lot and make a quick evaluation. Our evaluation then influences how we listen and how we respond to the message. 9. Evaluating and or judging the message based on who is speaking rather than on what is said. For instance, because I negatively label William as a troublemaker, I am predisposed to blame William for pushing in line. What William has to say in his defense is not worth hearing or I will listen to it only to confirm my opinion.
10.Blaming and/or finding fault in the child. 11.Antagonizing with the child, for example, “I don’t care if Sammy was pushing in line too; do you always follow what Sammy does?” 12.Searching for the weak point in the message, so that we can prove that we are right and the child is wrong. Our focus here is in us being right, and we will walk a great length to avoid losing the argument or to avoid being wrong. 13.Being too quick to disagree with the child. If we listen mainly to find something to disagree with and then defend and maintain our own position regardless of what the child says, we are sparring. This listening block keeps us busy arguing and debating with the child, one of the fastest routes to a power struggle. We never hear what the student says because we are too focused on finding things to disagree with him. The child’s arguments are dismissed and even invalidated with angry put-downs (e.g. “You are such a troublemaker!” and “You have a potty mouth!”), a popular sparring technique. Without realizing it, chances are that we are mirroring the child in both attitude and behavior, with both of us yelling and taking strong stands in defending our opinions and preferences. 14.Defending either our own position, or someone else’s position. 15.Giving our own opinion and point of view, in particular, when we convey the message that our own opinions and points of view are more important than the child’s are. 16.Using the child’s actions (behavior) to state what we want (as opposed to what the child wants or needs). For instance, saying, “You are always messing up for the other students! You better start fixing your act.”
17.Minimizing or discounting the child’s feelings. For example, saying things like “Cheer up. There is no need to be upset,” “You will feel better as soon as you stop feeling sorry for yourself,” “Don’t worry, these things happen,” “So, he called you Pinocchio. Big deal!” or “Stop overreacting!” Another way of minimizing feelings is by placating or agreeing with everything the child says. Our focus in placating is not directed at listening but at avoiding conflict. 18.Denying the child’s feelings, for example, saying, “Oh, you don’t really feel that way.” 19.Reading the child’s mind (e.g. “I know what you’re thinking”), guessing a hidden meaning (e.g. “I know why you’re doing this”), or guessing a hidden motivation (e.g. “I know what you want”). 20.Leading or directing the child to talk only about the things that we want to talk about. 21.Pondering in something that already happened or in something the child said (focusing in the past) at the expense of listening to what the child is saying in the present (focusing in the present). 22.Keeping our focus in how to manage what is going to happen next (focusing in the future) rather than in listening to what the child is currently saying, or listening in the present. 23.Rehearsing, or mentally planning our response while the student is still talking. 24.Trying to fix things. A similar listening block would be rescuing or taking responsibility in solving the problem for the child. 25.Giving advice that tells the child what to do next. For example, “Now go and apologize to Lucy,” “Go and tell Lucy how you feel,” “Ask Lucy to come over here to share the book with you,” or “Just ignore
her!” A therapeutic intervention would be asking the child, “What do you think you can do to settle this argument with Lucy?” Although advice has a role in therapeutic communication, when we deliver it too early in the interaction we defeat the main purpose of any therapeutic intervention: teaching children to find their own solutions to their social problems. Jumping with advice, or to rescue the child, can entrap us into missing what is more important in the therapeutic interaction: listening to feelings, both explicit and implied. 26.Lecturing and educating the child; for example, telling Lucy, “The problem with you is that you don’t share. If you were friendlier, you will be able to enjoy the company of other kids.” 27.“Stealing” the story by giving ourselves the role of the main character and making the story all about us, most specifically, what we want or need. Because we are such an interesting character our attention is on crafting the main character (“wonderful me”); that is, our focus is on telling about us, not on learning about the child. 28.Identifying with the story (another way in which “wonderful me” can steal the story). Whatever we hear the child saying triggers our memories of our own similar experiences and endlessly, we start sharing our “it happened to me too” experiences before the child had the chance to finish her story. 29.Feeling sorry for the child; also known as pitying. For instance, saying, “Oh you, poor thing…” or “I’m sorry to hear that you’re in such a mess.” 30.Consoling and/or making excuses for the child, for example, “Don’t worry about this. This was Sammy’s fault, not yours.”
31.Asking the child, “Why do you always do that?” Chances are that the child is not going to be able to explain his behavior.
Traveling to the Therapeutic Realm: Listening Skills that Ensure a Swift Journey
Empathy As introduced on chapter four, empathy is the essence of therapeutic communication, having a fundamental role in listening for healing or listening therapeutically. Empathy can be a powerful soothing tool for both the student and the teacher. A short, supportive phrase accompanied with a gesture of empathy (e.g. saying “I hear you” while touching the child on the shoulder) will take us only a moment but will walk a mile in creating rapport and in improving a challenging relationship with a hard to handle student. When we create an empathic connection with the unsettled child, we show that we understand what the child means from his point of view or frame of reference, not ours. By walking in the child’s shoes, we are in a better position to understand what the child is thinking (cognitive empathy) and feeling (feelings empathy). Empathy is frequently confused with, but is not the same as, sympathy. A feeling of sympathy is mainly a feeling of compassion or concern; for example, feeling sorry for the child because her kitten died. With sympathy, the feeling (e.g. grief, anger, embarrassment, or happiness) is shared as if it belongs to both child and teacher. Examples of sympathy statements would be, “I’m sorry to hear that your kitten died” and “I would feel angry too if that happens to me.” With
empathy, on the other hand, we “borrow” the child’s feelings to observe and to understand them, but without adopting any of those feelings as our own. As an empathetic listener, we remain detached from the problem situation, a skill also known in clinical settings as engaged detachment and participant observer. By becoming a participant observer, the therapeutic teacher responds to the child’s emotional experience without taking ownership of the child’s troubling and/or angry feelings. In other words, by keeping an appropriate emotional distance the participant observer remains objective in order to maintain a clearer view of the issue. In our helping capacity, teachers and school staff have the valuable opportunity of presenting an alternative perspective to the problem situation helping the distraught child answer: “What might this problem look like with the emotions subtracted?” (Adapted from Knapp, 2007.) The author continues, “Hence, your objective perspective may enable the opportunity to view and present problems with and without the emotions in place, which may provide alternative routes to the problem-solving pathway” (p. 10). Empathetic or empathic statements are of the kind: You must be upset… I can see that you were angry because… I imagine that you must feel… At this moment you feel… I understand that you’re feeling… I hear that you feel… We can express empathy both verbally (e.g. “Uh-huh…” “I see…” “I follow you…”) and nonverbally (e.g. nodding, a relaxed facial expression, or putting our arm on the child’s shoulder).
Acceptance During our therapeutic journey, the skill of acceptance walks hand-in-hand with the skill of empathy. When we are listening empathetically, we both show respect and accept the student’s rights to his own experience and feelings. We suspend our own frame of reference, entering the child’s private perceptual world, and accepting without judgment the child’s perception of the problem. We show a willingness to hear and to understand what the child has to say without negative criticism and without any preconditions. Acceptance basically means staying as neutral as we can; our own perspective is not part of our responses, even if we disagree with the child’s interpretation of the problem or with the child’s behaviors. We give our undivided attention to what the child is saying, so that the child feels heard in a nonjudgmental way. Strongly related to the skill of acceptance is the ability to listen with an open mind or listening with openness. To keep an open mind, McKay, Davis, and Fanning (2009) share the following piece of advice: “The most important rule for listening with openness is to hear the whole statement, the entire communication, before judging. Premature evaluations don’t make sense because you don’t have all the information” (p. 21). Accepting the student’s perception of the problem is different from accepting the problem itself. We are accepting what the child is saying and feeling, not agreeing with it. At this entry level, the therapeutic listener avoids expressing any kind of agreement or disagreement with the issue discussed. Another way of showing acceptance is by communicating to the child that we believe in his ability to solve his own social problems.
Immediacy DeVito (2001) defines immediacy as “The joining of the speaker and listener, the creation of a sense of togetherness, of oneness” (p. 145). Therapeutic listeners demonstrate immediacy by conveying a sense of interest and attention, a liking for the child. As the author states, immediacy joins us; nonimmediacy separates us. The skill of immediacy is also known as nonverbal attending (Knapp, 2007) and attending behavior (Morse and Ivey, 1996). Most closely related to the skill of immediacy would be the therapeutic skills of rapport (detailed on chapter four) and pacing (detailed on chapter three). From the literature in interpersonal communication, we get some pointers for communicating immediacy both nonverbally and verbally: Maintaining physical closeness and arranging our body to exclude third parties. Maintaining appropriate eye contact and limiting looking around at others. Keeping a relaxed, inviting, and open posture; avoiding crossing arms and/or legs. Smiling to the child and looking pleasant (relaxed facial muscles). Reflecting the child’s facial expressions to show sympathy and empathy with the emotional story that the child is telling. Leaning forward occasionally. Communicating warmth, interest, and confidence with our voice. Expressing concern for the child (e.g. “I’m concerned about…”). Using the child’s name, for example, saying, “Sammy, what do you think?” or “What do you think, Sammy?” Staying on topic, which is the child’s topic.
Using self-references (i.e. what we think and/or believe) in our evaluative statements, for example, “I think your idea shows insight” rather than “Your idea shows insight.” Focusing on the child’s remarks; making the child feel that we are listening by referencing his previous remark (e.g. “So, you think our classroom is too crowded”). Focusing on the child’s remarks by giving feedback that relates to what the child said (e.g. “I think that your opinion shows insight”). Alternatively, we can ask for clarification (e.g. “What do you mean by crowded?”) or elaboration (e.g. “Can you tell me more?”). Giving a compliment to the child. For example, saying, “I like your new sneakers” or “I admire your sense of humor.” However, keep in mind that to be effective your compliment must be sincere. Sensitivity Listening with sensitivity is being aware of the emotional content of the message, in particular, the feelings expressed explicitly and implicitly. The child’s feelings are never questioned or diminished, but echoed either in a sympathetic or an empathetic voice. From Nichols (1995), we adapted ways in which teachers can show sensitivity when listening to children’s troubling feelings: Paying attention to what the child is saying Acknowledging the child’s feelings Listening without giving our opinion Listening without offering advice Listening without immediately agreeing or disagreeing
Noticing how the student appears to be feeling, and then asking the child Respecting the student’s need for quiet times Respecting the student’s need to address the problem Not pushing too hard for feelings Time In order to truly listen to a troubled or angry child, we must set aside ample time to do it. When we give children the precious gift of our time, we are letting them know that we care and that we are interested in what they have to say. As a first step, invite the child to sit; this way, you communicate without words your willingness to listen and to take the time to do it. If you do not have enough time to listen, just be honest and tell the child, this is always better than rushing through things. However, make sure that you schedule a meeting with the child for a more appropriate occasion, for instance, saying “I really can’t concentrate on what you’re saying right now. Can you come to see me after dismissal?” or “I’m really interested in what you have to say, but I would like to wait until I can give you my full attention. How do you feel about continuing this conversation at lunch time?”
Table 5.1. Listening Therapeutically to Children
1. Listen to the child with respect, as you would do with a friend. 2. Maintain the confidentiality and keep it private. 3. Set aside enough time to listen. 4. Give the child your undivided attention. 5. Keep an open mind and do not evaluate or judge. 6. As a first step, help the student feel comfortable and build trust. 7. Show genuine interest and be curious. Show interest by making supportive comments like, “That’s interesting…” and “Tell me more.” 8. Instead of agreeing or disagreeing with the child, invite him to tell you more. Tell the child that you want to know more. 9. Say nothing. Just by listening and communicating acceptance with connecting gestures such as nodding, touching the child on the shoulder, and/or a tender smile, we support and encourage the child. 10. Use minimal encouragers or short phrases such as “I see,” “Yes,” “Uh-huh,” and “I’m listening.” 11. Resist the impulse to switch the focus to you and to what is in your mind. 12. Do not be in a hurry to takeover. 13. If you truly want to know how the child is feeling, just ask her; and then listen. 14. Give the child time to express freely what she thinks and feels. 15. Give the child ample time to complete her thoughts. Do not interrupt after the first pause; speak only after the child is finished. 16. Give the student the opportunity to make his point, acknowledge it, and only then say your part. 17. Resist the impulse to react emotionally to what you hear. 18. Try to understand the feelings that the child is expressing explicitly and implicitly, not just facts or ideas. 19. Respond to feelings, not just content.
Chapter 6 The Role of Self in Emotional Communication
awareness by helping the distraught child connect with him-self or her-self. However, our positive influence shrinks if we, the teacher or helper, have limited ability in connecting with our most accessible self in the interaction: my-self. Simply put, if I have difficulty connecting with my emotional self, then, how can I help the child, any child, understand and connect with his or her emotional self? With this question in mind, we prepare for our helping role by removing the veil that is keeping the self hidden from our view.
n any interpersonal exchange there are at least two selves in interaction: your-self (other or child) and my-self (I or me). In a therapeutic interaction, most specifically, we build emotional self-
Types of Self
According to Hargie (2011), the self can take many forms and can be analyzed from different perspectives. The author lists the following sides or types of self: I really am- True Self I would really like to be- Ideal Self I want others to think I am- Social Self I used to be- Past Self A new person- Reconstructed Self
***END OF THIS EXCERPT***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Carmen Y. Reyes, The Psycho-Educational Teacher, has 20+ years of experience as a self-contained special education teacher, resource room teacher, and educational diagnostician. In the classroom, Carmen has taught at all grade levels, from kindergarten to post-secondary. Carmen is an expert in the application of behavior management strategies and in teaching students with learning or behavior problems. Her classroom background, in New York City and in her native Puerto Rico, includes 10 years teaching students labeled as emotionally disturbed, and four years teaching children with a learning disability or low cognitive functioning. Carmen has a bachelor’s degree in psychology (University of Puerto Rico) and a master’s degree in special education with a specialization in emotional disorders (Long Island University, Brooklyn: NY). She also has extensive graduate training in psychology (30+ credits). Currently, Carmen is a full-time writer. She authors 70+ books and articles in child guidance and in alternative teaching techniques for students struggling academically. All her publications are available on her blog, The Psycho-Educational Teacher.
CONNECT WITH THE AUTHOR ONLINE
Blog http://thepsychoeducationalteacher.blogspot.com/ Facebook http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Psycho-EducationalTeacher/168256836524091 Twitter http://twitter.com/psychoeducation Email firstname.lastname@example.org
DISCOVER OTHER TITLES BY THIS AUTHOR
All Behavior Is Communication How To Give Feedback, Criticism, And Corrections That Improve Behavior
Keeping The Peace Managing Students in Conflict Using the Social Problem-Solving Approach
Keys To Meaning What Teachers And Tutors Can Do To Improve Reading Comprehension Skills
Thinking, Feeling, and Behaving A Cognitive-Emotive Model to Get Children to Control their Behavior
School Help A Teacher and Tutor Guide to Help the Older Student with Limited Word Reading Fluency
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.